T.J. Nunnery sparks another Hays High comeback

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Hays High's T.J. Nunnery glides to the basket after being fouled on Friday in the Indians' 44-38 comeback win over Dodge City.

The bigger the situation, the better the performance from T.J. Nunnery. 

That's what Hays High coach Alex Hutchins has come to expect from the senior guard, and Friday's home contest against Dodge City was no exception. 

For the third straight game, the Indians were forced to dig themselves out of a double-digit hole. This time they fell behind by 15 in the second quarter. 

Nunnery was a big reason why the Indians remained unblemished at 15-0, helping lead the comeback in a 44-38 win over the Red Demons. 

He hit a go-ahead 3 with 2:03 left, and forced a jump ball inside the final minute with the Indians up two. 

 "T.J. and I have talked a lot about how his best games are usually in our biggest games or toughest games," Hays High coach Alex Hutchins said. "He does seem to rise to the occasion.

"... He's a guy that sometimes in a game you win by 20, you're kind of frustrated and wondering what's up with T.J. Knock on wood, but so far in the big moments, he's someone that we rely on because he always seems to rise to the occasion."

Hays High's Dalyn Schwarz tries to get up a shot against Dodge City on Friday at Hays High.

Nunnery took charge when the Indians needed it most, scoring 11 of his team-high 13 points in the second half.

"Whenever we're down, I try to do whatever I can to score and get us back going, get our momentum going," Nunnery said. "Anything I can try to do, I'll do it."

Hutchins has credited Nunnery's patience and poise offensively this year. He's also urged Nunnery to step up his aggressiveness in the second half of the season. 

"I think T.J. at times last year was too aggressive, and at seemed like at times at the beginning of the year this year, he was taking his foot of the gas too much," Hutchins said. "I do think he's playing a much more well-rounded game this year. I think he's passing the ball better and moving it, and trusting his teammates and letting things flow. 

"There's been a couple conversations, especially Christmas break, early January time, where we said, 'Don't be afraid to unhitch the plow and get going, man.' We're going to need you playing like an All-State, All-league guard if we're going to get where we want to ... Moving toward the end of the year, I think he's starting to take another step forward and take charge."

A week after trailing by 19 at halftime during a comeback win against Salina Central, the Indians again struggled in the first half, with Dodge City (9-5) jumping out to a 22-7 lead in the second quarter. The Red Demons led 26-15 at the break. 

"We felt like the defense was solid," Hutchins said. "Our worst defensive nightmares were our offense. Our offense was creating so many problems on the other end. We're spending three quarters of the first half on defense. If it was a football game and it's time of possession in the first half, I think we lose by a wide margin."

The Indians started resolving the problems in the third quarter, cut the deficit to five heading to the fourth and got it tied up on a Dalyn Schwarz free throw with 2:41 left. 

Dodge regained the lead on a free throw with 2:21 left, before Nunnery's 3 put the Indians up for good. 

Nunnery missed the front end of a one-and-one with 50 seconds left, but formed a trap of the Dodge City ballhandler with Jordan Dale and got the ball tied up to give it back to Hays. 

"I saw Jordan was on the left side of him, so if he tried to go back that way, we were going to try and get a trap, and that's what we did," Nunnery said. "I just hustled over there and tried to get a play."

Dodge City coach Steve Traughber picked up a technical foul arguing the jump ball call, and Hays' Jason Krannawitter hit two free throws to make it a four-point game. 

Dodge's Cooper Loll and Scheck combined for six 3-pointers. Loll scored a game-high 15 points and Scheck added 12. 

Jace Linenberger added 12 points for the Indians, now 5-0 in Western Athletic Conference play.

"They locked in the second half," Hutchins said of his team "We've got to take a look at film and rotations and stats and kind of take a deeper dive into what we need to do to get things going a little sooner in the game."

"It's exciting when you get the momentum going your way, but it's kind of scary when it's not going your way," Nunnery said. 

Dodge City 52, Hays 26

Hays High's Ashlynn Flax looks to dribble baseline on Friday against Dodge City at Hays High.

The Hays High girls basketball program received a jolt just a few hours before game time when the Indians were informed they would be without several players due to COVID-19 protocols. 

The entire junior varsity team was put in quarantine, leaving the Indians' varsity with just seven players available Friday. The JV game was canceled. 

"You have this game plan in place, and some of our key pieces were not there," Hays High coach Len Melvin said. "Things changed real quick. You don't have time to practice. It's just a quick board talk and you hope your girls play their hearts out, and they did."

Carly Lang, Re Green, Maia Lummus, Jersey Johnson, Ginny Ke, Ashlynn Flax and Morgan Engel were the seven who played. 

"Before the game, we just wanted the girls to be ourselves," Melvin said. "And we talked about in life you go through adversity and this is a good opportunity to see how we were going to respond. Our message was just be the hardest-working team on the floor. I'm not so sure that was the case in the first quarter, but I thought the second, third and fourth quarters they played their butts off, knowing that we only had seven girls. They were tired, they played hard."

Dodge City, ranked No. 6 in Class 6A, broke away from the Indians with a 20-2 run in the first half.

Other than a few breakdowns allowing shooters open looks, Melvin thought it was a solid defensive effort for his shorthanded squad. 

"I thought we had them scouted really well, we just lost track of shooters" Melvin said. "Man, they shoot well. You can't lose shooters by making mental mistakes and we did, and they made us pay for it. 

"But overall, I was happy, again, knowing that we only had seven girls. We were tired. And they're really good. They really make you guard them."

Kisa Unruh led the Red Demons with 15 while Amaya Perez added. 

Jersey Johnson and Maia Lummus each had six for the Indians, who dropped to 5-10 overall and 1-4 in WAC play. Dodge moved to 13-1 and 4-0 in WAC. 

"I think the bright spot was you had seven girls that really wanted their sisters around them, and you could have just given up; I don't think we gave up," Melvin said. "I don't think we came out real strong in the first quarter but I think we played really hard."

Friday night was Indian Call for Hays High. Gaven Haselhorst was named king and Audrey Irvin was queen. 

Hays High's Audrey Irvin and Gaven Haselhorst were named Indian Call queen and king.